Entrepreneurship in our iGEM project


🤔 Defining the Problem

Water pollution has been one of the most pressing problems to solve in the last decade worldwide, due to the exponential growth of the food, textile, leather, mining and pharmaceutical industry and the residues that they leave behind. The need to dispose of dangerous chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other pollutants, has created a toxic environment in water bodies making it a threatening problem in many parts of Mexico. Likewise organisms living in these affected areas are in danger of becoming extinct. This problem is also a health risk for communities near to polluted sites (Otazo-Sánchez et al., 2020).

❓ What causes the water contamination?

Water is known to be the “universal solvent”, as its polar nature gives it the ability to form hydrogen bonds with other molecules. These forces facilitate the dilution of different substances, including pollutants. That is why many contaminants have the capacity of changing water quality just like chemicals, human waste, industrial waste, the elevation of its temperature, since it decreases the oxygen levels in its composition, deforestation and pesticides. While water has a self-cleaning system when contaminant concentration exceeds certain limits, this process is not sufficient to revert the affectations (Yang et al., 2019). The World Health Organization (WHO) defines contaminated water as water that undergoes changes in its composition until it becomes unusable.

❗ Health Affectations

According to the National Institute of Public Health (INSP), approximately 842,000 low and middle class Mexicans die every year from unsafe water, and poor sanitation in water treatments. In 2019, 6.58 million incidents cases were reported and 99 million prevalent cases of diarrheal disease. For children under the age of 5 with disability adjusted life years (DALYs) the figures were 45.5 million (WHO, 2022).

Common diseases caused by water pollution (WHO, 2022):

  • Cholera
  • Diarrheal disease
  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid fever
  • Polio


The interaction of Ery-K and AtPCS with their substrates erythromycin and cadmium, respectively, will trigger conformational changes of enzyme structure and it will generate a detectable FRET signal from the chromophores in the system.

"Identification of Key players"

To know the key players that will help solve the problem, we need to understand how the control of bodies of water is managed in Mexico. All water bodies are considered property of the nation, therefore, only government organizations are responsible for protecting the waters by implementing laws and deciding who is capable of helping.

🗣️ Stakeholders

  • The Mexican National Water Committee (CONAGUA): This administrative body is responsible for managing and supervising the hydraulic resources, including water cleaning and treatment. State and city specific organizations are responsible for their respective zones, however, they all work alongside CONAGUA.
  • Secretariat of environment and natural resources (SEMARNAT): a public organization that develops drainage rehabilitation projects, treatment plants, aqueducts, and sewage systems.

👤 Who is it for?

  • This product is aimed for companies in charge of water treatment. Given that, in Mexico, water is controlled by the governmental entities, they would have the resources to implement the FRET-based biosensor.

💬 Potential partnerships with different ideas

  • In the last few years, some non profit private organizations have started to work with the government. One of these is H2O innovation, a company that uses treated egg shells to absorb metals, chemicals and other contaminants. Furthermore, the team has the objective of collaborating with different companies around Mexico and/or the world in a possible future; just as the H2O innovation company.

Erythromycin (pharmaceutical) and cadmium (heavy metal)

Our team decided to focus specifically on heavy metals and pharmaceutical contaminants, particularly erythromycin and cadmium, which gives us an initial purpose and direction to start from.These gives us an examples of what the FRET system is capable of, since they are present in many contaminated bodies of water.

  • Erythromycin is a drug used to treat certain infections caused by bacteria, such as respiratory tract infection or more serious infections like STDs or diphtheria. Whatever isn't metabolized ends up in the water system and binds to emerging contaminants, causing negative effects like antibiotic resistance, several health issues and the decay of habitats. At the same time erythromycin causes alterations in fish in their metabolic processes, which are reflected at the hormonal level; this tells us that not only humans are being affected, but also a wide variety of species (Otazo-Sánchez et al., 2020).
  • Cadmium is commonly used for battery production, alloy coating, solar cell production, plastic stabilizer among others. Exposure to cadmium causes skeletal, renal damage, cardiovascular diseases and affects reproduction and development in several mammalian species (Rahimzadeh et al., 2017).

Implementation into the Market

  • Applications
    • The product is targeted to contaminant detection in water bodies, to help prevent further health problems. We are dedicated to helping solve critical water recovery and water treatment around the world starting with Mexico.
  • Market Gap
    • Too big of a problem for a small solution: In Mexico, even though there are laws to regulate the use of water, they are hard to enforce. It is estimated that between 12.5 and 15 million Mexicans do not have access to drinking water (López, 2019); this represents 10 % of the population. In Mexico, more than 70 % of rivers, lakes, and dams have some degree of contamination (UN, 2018). A Mexican consumes an average of 366 liters of water a day, in different aspects of the daily life, of water per day per capita, making the country one of the top 5 water consumers worldwide (CONAGUA, 2018). In addition, there are almost no private groups that help detect the contaminants in the water, which are necessary to carry out water healing. The FRET-based biosensor system is dedicated to changing this reality for Mexicans; this gap helps us get our device into the market more efficiently, since Mexico is in need of more innovative ideas.
    • Regulation in Mexico to keep in mind: “All natural and legal persons, including federal entities and municipalities or sub-state authorities that participate in the exploitation, use or development of national waters must obtain a concession or assignment for the use of water by the National commission of water.”
  • Mexico institutionalized the right to water the 8th of February 2012 in the 4th article of the constitution of the United Mexican States, proclaiming that every person has the right to a healthy environment for their well being and development. Likewise, every person has the right to provision and sanitation of the water for personal and domestic consumption in an acceptable and affordable form.
  • Article 120 of Ecology Law: industrial, municipal, agricultural, and toxic discharges are subject to federal or local regulation. All material discharge into rivers, sewers and other water currents must satisfy the Official Mexican Standards (NOM), as well as the established discharge conditions. NOM also stipulates mandatory sampling and monitoring procedures which are used to file administrative compliance claims.
  • Article 89 of National Water Law and article 140 of the water regulations: stipulate that, when establishing specific conditions, the National Commission of Water (CONAGUA) must consider the NOMs, the water classification system instituted by de CONAGUA, the rights of third parties to develop or use the receiving body of water, and restrictions imposed by the National Water Plan, as well as other aspects related to the general health.
  • Therefore, the laws of the Mexican constitution, working with the CONAGUA and other public institutions, help regulate the bodies of water in Mexico. Everyone has the right to use water, however, there must be control when throwing away any kind of waste and concrete and mandatory rules must be established. Article 78 dictates that CONAGUA ought to establish objectives for improving the quality of national waters and a deadline to meet them (CONAGUA, 2018).

Human Rights and 2030 Agenda

In 2010, the United Nation General Assembly declared “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights” (UN, 2010). Similarly, the UN's 2030 agenda gives a specific goal for countries around the world to reduce pollution in the environment. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), give an idea of what needs to be done, in this case, our team focuses on the 6th SDGs; clean water and sanitation.

Sponsorships and Finances

Donations from our sponsors have made research possible for the development of a biosensor that will meet market needs. Some local businesses that have made donations to help improve the development are La Gran Lucha, Corporativo Nugar, Tequila Doña Petra and FEMSA. Other international companies from other parts of the world have granted us aid; SnapGene has been invaluable to our scientific advances. Additionally, the team also worked hard to win The FEMSA scholarship to fund different aspects of the project.

La Gran Lucha $40,350 MXN
Corporativo Nugar $20,000 MXN
Tequila Doña Petra $16,000 MXN
SnapGene 6 licenses
Tecnológico de Monterrey $8,500 USD + equipment used
FEMSA $200,000 MXN scholarship
La Gran Lucha $40,000 MXN
SnapGene 14 licenses
PROMEGA $2,500 USD in products
Tecnológico de Monterrey $10,700 USD + equipment used

All of this helps us fund the majority of our materials, making it a product that is sustainable and available for the companies that will be able to use it in the future. The FRET-based system is a long-term solution, making our main objective helping our environment and promoting long-term health.

Feedback about entrepreneurship from different institutions

🔥 Entrepreneurship Department, Tecnológico de Monterrey campus Guadalajara

Business incubation experts from Tecnológico de Monterrey campus Guadalajara pointed out our project needs to collaborate with the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), as they are responsible for guaranteeing the high quality of water bodies in Mexico, including the Santiago River in Jalisco. In addition, they provided us with relevant guidance for the strengthening of our entrepreneurship, such as intellectual property protection, cost breakdown of our product and new potential stakeholders. This information will let us know how our product will impact the communities around the polluted waters quantitatively.

🍻 Heineken

We had the opportunity to have a meeting with Heineken Mexico executives, where we presented our project and achievements at the moment. They attentively reviewed our presentation and gave us assertive feedback and valuable recommendations regarding our entrepreneurship efforts. Their insights revolved around delimiting our market segmentation, knowing our competitors and how the final product will be delivered to our customers.

Figure 1. Meeting with Heineken Mexico executives.


The Eugenio Garza Lagüera Institute of Entrepreneurship awarded our team with the Stella Orion Scholarship, which not only catalyzed the beginning of our entrepreneurship project but also helped us gain knowledge of how to continue the development of our final product.

Figure 2. Stella Orion Scholarship certificate given with the purpose to undertake an entrepreneurship project.

  1. Comisión Nacional Del Agua (CONAGUA). (2019). Instrumentos de gestión del agua [Water management instruments]. https://www.gob.mx/conagua/acciones-y-programas/instrumentos-de-gestion-del-agu
  2. López, P. (2019). Sin acceso al agua potable, 10 por ciento de mexicanos [10 percent of Mexicans do not have access to drinking water]. https://www.gaceta.unam.mx/sin-acceso-al-agua-potable-10-por-ciento-de-mexicanos/
  3. Otazo-Sánchez, E. M., Navarro-Frómeta, A. E., & Singh, V. P. (2020). Water Availability and Management in Mexico (Vol. 88).
  4. Rahimzadeh, M. R., Rahimzadeh, M. R., Kazemi, S., & Moghadamnia, A. A. (2017). Cadmium toxicity and treatment: An update. DOAJ (DOAJ: Directory of Open Access Journals), 8(3), 135-145. https://doi.org/10.22088/cjim.8.3.135
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  6. United Nations (UN). (2023). OHCHR and the rights to water and sanitation. https://www.ohchr.org/en/water-and-sanitation
  7. World Health Organization: WHO. (2022). Agua para consumo humano. [Water for human consume]. https://www.who.int/es/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water#:~:text=El%20agua%20contaminada%20y%20el,fiebre%20tifoidea%20y%20la%20poliomielitis.
  8. Yang, M., Jiang, C., Liu, W., Liang, L., & Pi, K. (2019). A less harmful system of preparing robust fabrics for integrated self-cleaning, oil-water separation and water purification. Environmental Pollution, 255, 113277. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2019.113277